Cat Behavior

Sometimes being a pet owner is hard, but we want to make sure you're getting all the best tools and resources for you and your pet. When it comes to training animals of any species, the only beneficial, humane training method is force-free, fear-free, positive reinforcement.

General cat care and behavior tips.

You can also email behavior@pawsforliferescue.org and we can put you in touch with a trainer. 

Cat Behavior Help

Behavior Management Tips

Recommended Reading

Types of Professional Help

Find Professional Help

Behavior Management Techniques

It’s important to recognize that management is not a form of training and will not change the behavior itself. Management is a tool to use at times when training cannot occur or if the animal has high levels of stress or anxiety with a situation.
 
Being consistent and eliminating opportunities to practice the behavior can help prevent unwanted “training” sessions and decrease frustration and conflict. Below are examples of some common behavior problems and potential management solutions.
Issue: Destructive Behavior

One common misconception is that cats are “out for revenge” when they destroy household items, but these behaviors are usually part of normal investigation and play and, fortunately, can most commonly be managed with an appropriate plan and patience.

Management Tips:

  • Prevent access to unacceptable targets/offer alternatives

  • Prevent boredom

  • Make unacceptable targets less attractive

Issue: Scratching Furniture and Other Items
Claws are a physically, socially, and emotionally vital part of every cat. Scratching, for a cat, is not only a natural act, but a necessary one as well. 

Management Tips:

  • Cover up the spot the cat likes to scratch with tin foil 

  • Place a double-sided tape like Sticky Paws on the area. This tape comes in different sizes and versions designed specifically for furniture or plants

  • Setting up a vinyl carpet runner, with the spiky side up, in front of the spot where they love to scratch

  • Use The Yes Technique

 
Issue: Setting Up The Litterbox Correctly
There is proper litter box etiquette and a correct way to set-up your cat’s litter box. This affects the mannerism in which your cat relates to this territory. If your cat isn’t going in the litter box, It’s time to take a closer look at their current litter box situation. 
Management Tips:
  • One litter box plus one extra box for each cat

  • Make sure the litter boxes are placed in different areas of your home

  • Place litter boxes in separate, socially important areas

  • Litter boxes should not be in a dark corner in the basement, garage or hidden

  • If your cat is marking outside the litter box, it’s important to put the boxes places where they’re marking

  • Litter boxes should be placed in areas where your cat spends the majority of their time (If your cat loves to hang-out in the living room, then that’s where one of the litter boxes should be) 

  • Keeping litter boxes out in the open might not be your ideal scenario, but it’s ideal for your cat and it can solve litter box issues. Look into litter box cabinets and other furniture designed to hide them

  • If you have multiple cats, do not place the boxes side-by-side, right next to each other

  • Your litter boxes should have multiple exits

Issue: Spraying or Marking
House soiling is the most common behavior problem reported by cat owners. The solution to your cat’s problem will depend on the underlying causes of their behavior.
Management Tips:
  • Rule out medical causes
  • Neuter your cats
  • Keep the litter boxes clean
  • Identify and remove stimuli
  • Ease her frustrations

  • Separate feuding cats

  • Clean sprayed areas

 
Issue: Hatred of the Cat Carrier

The power of negative association is precisely why cats tend to disdain carriers: every time they get in them, it’s to go some place they don’t want to go. One trick that works well is to turn the carrier into the cat's feeding station using the most high value treats, like a bit of tuna, chicken or wet food. This creates a positive association with the carrier.

 

Training Steps:

  • Step 1 – Turn the Carrier into a “Den”

  • Step 2 – Place in Social Area

  • Step 3 – Provide Jackpot Treat

  • Step 4 – Add the Lid Back On

  • Step 5 – Add the Door Back On

  • Final Step: The Pick Up/Put Down

Recommended Reading: Handouts & Books

"The Cat Who Cried for Help" by Dr. Nicholas Dodman

Using examples from his own practice, Dodman (a veterinary behaviorist) intelligently and humorously talks about symptoms, treatment options, and helpful tips for prevention.

 

"Think Like a Cat" by Pam Johnson-Bennett

A feline behaviorist provides excellent insight into cat behavior and gives helpful tips for stopping problem behaviors like destructive chewing, aggression, furniture scratching, and litter-box difficulties.

Cat Care and Behavior Management books by Jackson Galaxy.

Different Types of Professional Help 

Pet owners should begin addressing their pet’s behavior issues by accessing recommended reading, contacting a behavior helpline and attending force-free obedience classes. If your pet’s behavioral issues persist, one-on-one, hands-on assistance is likely needed. In these cases, you should first consult with a certified pet trainer or behavior counselor, who will let you know if additional assistance is needed from a certified applied animal behaviorist or board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

Behavior Counselor

A behavior counselor is often a certified pet trainer, but he or she should also have more experience and knowledge, including a background in learning theory, awareness of the latest scientific knowledge and hands-on training. A behavior counselor should be able to analyze and diagnose the problem, devise and explain a possible solution and do necessary follow-up. Like trainers, some counselors are species-specific. There is no certification for behavior counselors, but you can ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Behavior counselors are generally listed as trainers who work on behavioral issues.

Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist

These are people who have been certified by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS) as either an applied or an associate applied animal behaviorist. Certification by ABS means that an individual meets certain educational, experiential and ethical standards required by the society. For help in finding a certified animal behaviorist, visit the website of the Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists.

Board-certified Animal Behaviorist

A veterinary behaviorist is a veterinarian who has completed an approved residency training program in veterinary animal behavior and passed a board exam. Veterinary behaviorists can rule out health problems and dispense medications, which are sometimes used to help change behavior in pets. You can think of animal behaviorists as the equivalent of psychologists, while veterinary behaviorists are the equivalent of psychiatrists. For help in finding a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, talk to your veterinarian or visit the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

You can also email behavior@pawsforliferescue.org and we can put you in touch with a trainer.

 
 
 

Cornell Feline Health Center

Have a specific question about the health and/or care of your cat? Take advantage of our Camuti Consultation Service. This unique fee-based service puts you in contact with an outstanding veterinary consultant who will discuss your cat’s condition and/or care with you.

Animal Behavior Consultants

Treats a variety of behavior problems in dogs, cats and horses, including:

  • Separation anxiety

  • House soiling

  • Fear and reactivity issues

  • Excessive vocalization

  • Compulsive behaviors

  • Noise phobias

  • Attention seeking

  • Leash training

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Cornell Feline Health Center

Have a specific question about the health and/or care of your cat? Take advantage of our Camuti Consultation Service. This unique fee-based service puts you in contact with an outstanding veterinary consultant who will discuss your cat’s condition and/or care with you.

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